Story and photography by Abubakr Mohammad
Dindir National park or Dinder Biosphere Reserve is one of Sudan’s most renowned national parks, and one of the oldest protected areas in Africa. It was established in 1935 after the London Convention of 1933 by the United Kingdom, in order to protect the natural habitats and specifically to protect the plants species in Africa. This agreement is known to be the first general conservation agreement in Africa signed by the colonial powers, and also considered the cornerstone of the institutionalized global one before the Second World War.
The Dinder national park is one of 7 Biosphere Reserves in Sudan after the secession of the South in 2011. It is the largest national park in Sudan (10291 sq.km). The park falls between 3 different states (Algadarif, South Western Sennar (most of the park), and the Blue-Nile state) where the south western, and south eastern parts include the border with Ethiopia. The park has been designated a Biosphere Reserve in 1979, and more recently in 2005 as a wetland site. It is known to be one of the seasonal routes of migratory-soaring birds; where migratory birds visit Sudan from Asia, Europe and other African countries.
The park has always received attention by different authorities since Sudan’s independence, because it is the most important one in Northern Africa and has similarities with habitats in the rich Savannah regions of Africa. It has a unique status in terms of its natural resources as it has two seasonal rivers crossing it (Dinder and Rahad rivers) and has over 400 natural wetland sites (water ponds). The grass cover stays green at the end of the dry season, and all these features make it an essential site for the grazing of wild animals. The park is known to host 58 species of trees and shrubs, 27 species of large mammals and over 250 species of birds.Some large mammals like the African leopard (Panthera pardus pardus), the Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis), and the Tora hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus tora) have not been seen in the park since the second half of the 20th century due to intensive hunting activities. During the mid 70’s, the Soemmerring’s gazelle (Nanger soemmerringii) also disappeared due to the mechanized agriculture schemes that took over its wet season migration lands.
General issues regarding the current status of the park
One of the main issues regarding the administration of National Parks is the unclear responsibilities designation; this could easily be demonstrated by the case of the Dinder national park. More than three different ministries are technically responsible for the national park, as follows:
1: Ministry of Interior (Wildlife Administration Department) is responsible for providing wildlife police personnel as rangers and managers, as well as to issue a letter upon request (for both Sudanese and non-Sudanese visitors) and one of the permits required to visit the parks.
2: Federal Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife is in charge of the supervision of administrative issues, regulations and laws in coordination with the federal government and other state ministries. It is also where the tourist visitation permits are issued for non-Sudanese citizens who intend to visit the national parks.
3: Federal Ministry of Science and Technology is in charge of the scientific research issues; such as wildlife diseases, regular scientific trips and census through the wildlife research centre. It also has wildlife researchers and assistants based in protected areas.
From the above elaboration the reader can sense how confusing and tedious it may seem to visit any national park or protected area in Sudan – especially if it’s the first time. It’s worth mentioning that some laws and regulations change, and so do the fees required for entering and staying inside the parks.
Other factors affecting the current status of the park
Human migration from war and conflict affected parts of Sudan (mainly North and West Darfur) poses serious pressure on the park in terms of the unsustainable logging of trees for fire wood and the mechanised agricultural schemes. The park has witnessed human migrations since the early 60’s (mainly due to droughts in western Sudan) but recently there is a higher population density in the park- over 40 villages on the North Western parts of the park and along the Rahad river. According to the latest studies, there are over 100,000 people living within those villages, and most of them significantly depend on the park for their livelihoods- through firewood collection, fruits, bee honey and illegal hunting. Cattle herds graze inside the park, looking for fresh grass and water during the dry season.
Planning a trip to the Dinder National Park
In order to visit the Dinder national park, the same permits that other parks require are also required, but it is a bit easier as it is not (yet) affected by any conflicts taking place in many areas where some parks are located.
For non-Sudanese visitors, you need to make sure you have enough time to apply for the required letter and permits. The letter from the wildlife administration in Khartoum could take more than 2 days and then you have to file for the tourism permits that will allow you to use cameras in any of the visited sites. Visiting season is known to start in November and end somewhere between April and early May; depending on the rainfall season.
If you don’t have a four-wheel drive vehicle, you will need to rent one from Khartoum, and it is better to have it before you start applying for the permits as you will have to provide the vehicle details, and the driver’s information on the letter from the wildlife administration.
The trip to Dinder National park will take a full day, 6-7 hours to reach Sennar State, then 4 hours to reach the Dinder town where the visitor will have to go to the wildlife administration in order to get the permits after handing in the letter from the wildlife administration in Khartoum. Then you will have another 4 hour trip on a road that is considerably rough.
The wildlife administration will provide the visitors with a ranger to accompany them during the trip inside the national park; so make sure that you have space for one extra person in your vehicle. It is important to have the wildlife ranger in the same car or in one of the cars if you have more than one.
I personally spend the night in Sennar state in order to reach the Dinder town in the early afternoon of the following day. If you don’t reach the main gate of the park before 5 PM, you might have to spend the night at the main gate before they let you in the next morning.
Arrival at the Park
Once the visitors arrive in the main camp (Galagu) they will need to provide the manager of the camp (wildlife police officer) with all their documents, after which they will be sent to the accountant in order to pay for the following services (in local currency SDG):
Entry fees per visitor;
Car parking fees;
Companion Ranger fees;
Food preparation fees, since each accommodation unit has a kitchen. It’s optional if you will make your own food.
Fuel fees; in case you ran out of fuel, the guards can bring it with them from the nearby village (Um bagara) when they visit it (every 2 days). What can you expect finding?
There are five main sites to visit while you’re inside the park, most of which are wetland sites where most of the bird species can be seen. On the way to those five sites you will see some of the other species; Buffalos, Lions, Ostriches, Warthogs, Bush Bucks, Roan Antelopes, Southern Reedbucks, Baboons, Red Monkeys, Green Monkeys and the list goes on depending on where you visit, when you visit it, and how long you stay for.
Normally the visiting strategy is divided into two trips made during the day; the first one starts early in the morning around 8 AM, and then you come back around 12 for a lunch break. The second one starts around 4:30 PM until right before sunset.
It is better to make sure that the ranger who accompanies you is always nearby for safety issues, and to avoid any encounter with wild animals, especially buffalos and lions.
You will normally be able to visit the main nearby sites:
All those sites are great spots to see large numbers of birds representing the diversity in the park. There are also large numbers of snakes, and other reptiles in the park, but it would be difficult to see them as easy as the other animals. The power supply goes off during day time in order to preserve energy but it comes back around 6 PM until early morning, to allow for charging phone or camera batteries as needed.
For safety concerns it is advised that visitors are careful during night time inside the accommodation camp as spitting cobras and scorpions are known to crawl around (double and triple check especially if you have kids with you). I was once looking for a snake outside in the park for a whole day and couldn’t find it; then found a 1.8 meter Sand Snake in my bedroom, and my colleague found a few scorpions. I have also seen an adult Black-necked Spitting Cobra outside by the parking lot in front of the accommodation lodge.
The main factor that could affect the whole trip is the time you avail for your stay inside the park, it is very important to plan a reasonable timeframe to enjoy the park and its magnificent biodiversity. Most of the data presented regarding the current status of the biodiversity is a result of the enormous work of the wildlife research centre staff and the Sudanese wildlife conservation society. The time we spend at the park is an opportunity to thank them for their priceless efforts to conserve the wildlife of Sudan and its protected areas. So stay as long as you can to bask in the glory of the park and its offerings.